The Big Ten Conference has taken some serious strides in the past few years with a number of teams jockeying for supremacy in the conference. The Big Ten East is the most loaded division in College Football and it is expected to stay that way for years to come. With fall camp approaching, let’s take a look at some early conference power rankings to build the hype for the upcoming College Football season. For the record, Jim Harbaugh still hasn’t won a Big Ten Title. Just putting it out there in case anyone forgot. Okay, now let’s move on.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini
Red Grange is cringing and turning over in his grave. Illinois has been absolutely horrendous with Tim Beckman, Bill Cubit, and Lovie Smith combining for a record of 22-51 since 2012 and it’s not looking too promising for the Illini in 2018. They are relying heavily on the youth movement and will Lovie Smith turn the corner with his team at some point? Or will it be too late if their 12 game losing streak in conference play is extended?
13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers has struggled to find success since joining the Big Ten in 2014. (Why they joined is still a huge question mark). Chris Ash has improved since he took over in 2016 but that next big jump may never come. The Scarlet Knights added Boston College graduate transfer Jon Hilliman to add a spark at running back. However, Gio Rescigno is back and still can’t throw a football if his life depended on it. will Rutgers surpass four wins this season? It shouldn’t take long to figure that out once conference play starts.
12. Minnesota Golden Gophers
I absolutely love what PJ Fleck is doing with this program. Yes, he did go 5-7 in his first year but they showed some real promise for the future. They have been recruiting the state of Florida well and the Gophers will be extremely competitive for years to come. The only concern is that Minnesota has only one scholarship quarterback on its roster. If that one player gets hurt, things could get disastrous real quick.
11. Maryland Terrapins
Year three for DJ Durkin and they are a lot closer than Rutgers to turning the corner. If Kasim Hill and Tyrell Pigrome were not nipped by the injury bug last year, the Terps may have finished better than 4-8. The pieces are there for this team to be dangerous with two dual-threat quarterbacks and Ty Johnson at running back. The Maryland run-game will be strong but will the passing game step up? We will find out very soon.
10. Indiana Hoosiers
This team is always just one big question mark heading into every new season. Indiana knows how to keep teams on their toes but can never seem to finish. Peyton Ramsey and Morgan Ellison can be extremely dangerous for the Hoosiers on offense as a serious quarterback and running back duo. Losing Tegray Scales and Greg Gooch on defense will hurt the Hoosiers in 2018. The defense remains the biggest question for this team and it could make or break whether they go to a bowl game or not.
9. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Once Nebraska hired Scott Frost, it was ready to move its way back up. Frost is a former Nebraska quarterback and he is the absolute perfect fit to lead the Cornhuskers. After a disastrous 4-8 season a year ago, he has already made noise on the recruiting trail and Nebraska will make things very interesting in the Big Ten West. They won’t go 15-0 this season but it is very realistic for this team to make a bowl game. Look out everyone, Nebraska is coming back and they’re not messing around anymore.
8. Purdue Boilermakers
Jeff Brohm is an absolute boss. If his locker room speeches don’t make you want to run through a wall, then I don’t know what will get you hyped up. Purdue finished 7-6 after an atrocious Darrell Hazell campaign and things are looking up in West Lafayette. This team will be fun to watch and may potentially be 6-0 going into their October 20th showdown with Ohio State. This team is a sleeper and shouldn’t be taken lightly at any time.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes
Kirk Ferentz always seems to put a solid and extremely competitive squad on the field every single year. They are hard-nosed, blue-collar, and extremely tough. Nate Stanley is returning on offense but losing Josh Jackson and Josey Jewell will hurt the defense a little bit. The Hawkeyes get Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium this season and you all know what that means! Wisconsin should be on high alert. Consistency is key for this team.
6. Northwestern Wildcats
10 wins in two of the past three seasons, back to back bowl wins, and a beautiful new practice facility; Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats are living right now! This team could do some serious damage this year if they stay healthy. Unfortunately, the quarterback issue lingers on as star quarterback Clayton Thorson continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in last season’s Music City Bowl. The Wildcats should make things very interesting in the Big Ten West this season and for years to come with the addition of former five-star quarterback and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson.
5. Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines have felt that Jim Harbaugh is the guy that will lead them to a National Championship. Well, they haven’t even won a Big Ten Title yet. Michigan has yet to find an established quarterback with Harbaugh coaching. The addition of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson helps the case that they found a guy. However, will the offensive line hold up and keep Patterson standing upright? The defense shouldn’t be an issue with players like Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, and Lavert Hill leading one of the best units in the country. However, they can be extremely vulnerable at times as we saw at some points in 2017.
4. Michigan State Spartans
Now, this is where things get a little tricky. Deciding the rankings for these last few teams was extremely difficult. Mark Dantonio always seems to find a way to turn his program around after a tough season and the Spartans seemed poised to take another step forward. Brian Lewerke is a serious dual threat at quarterback and it’s the first time under Dantonio that a quarterback can really run. LJ Scott is back and is poised for a fantastic season. MSU beat Penn State and Michigan last year. Will 2018 bring a similar result to 2017? Having experience on both sides of the ball sure helps.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions
ARE! YOU! READY! FOR! PENN! STATE! FOOTBALL! Man, those seven words give me the chills every single time. Penn State lost offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State, Saquon Barkley declared for the NFL Draft, other offensive and defensive weapons graduated, and now new faces will have to step in. New offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne called the Fiesta Bowl and picked apart Washington’s stout defense for 545 yards. Trace McSorley is back, Miles Sanders is ready to replace Barkley, and it’s not crazy to think that the Nittany Lions can reach 10 wins again. The games against Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin will be huge and three of the four are at home. This team will stay explosive and will be a lot of fun to watch once again.
2. Wisconsin Badgers
Alex Hornibrook is back, the offensive line is ready to make an impact and remain the best line in the Big Ten, the defense is as strong as ever, and Jonathan Taylor is back at running back. That’s pretty much all you could ask for if you’re a Wisconsin fan. Taylor is Heisman Trophy candidate and the Badgers are the clear front-runner in the Big Ten West. The games against Iowa, Michigan, and Penn State will tell us if the Badgers are for real once again.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State just reloads every single year and they seem to never skip a beat once a well-known name graduates or declares for the draft. Nick Bosa is regarded as one of the best defensive ends in the country and J.K. Dobbins is an emerging star at running back. The only possible question mark is at quarterback. Dwayne Haskins has already been named the starter but has very limited experience. The game at Penn State on September 29th could be a game where Ohio State figures out the type of team it has. Will that be the game where some possible inexperience comes into play? The TCU game in Dallas is no cakewalk either. On any given Saturday, anything could happen.